A record I fell in love with: Zambia's 'other' music

Written by Matt Stancombe


Ah, Zambia, welcome to the land of sandpapered records. Collectors joke that records from Zambia are graded on a different scale – Near Mint from Zambia is VG minus (at best) in the wider world. I don’t have many records from the region due to their scarcity, but those I have come across haven’t faired well over the years. Chances are if you think of music from this country you’ll likely have heard of the term Zamrock, a loose description of fuzzy, psychedelic sounds characterized by screaming guitars and hard rock beats with a distinctly African voice but westward-looking, popular with b-boys and rockers alike. Egon at Now Again (and consequently Madlib) is a huge fan, as is Moss at premier reissue label Strawberry Rain Music who between them have compiled and catalogued an incredible selection of this style of music.

However, there is another style of music of Zambian (or possibly Congolese) origin that doesn’t seem to be exported outside of some niche “world music” compilations. Called Kalindula, it’s a kind of folk music, gentle and lilting, used for storytelling and communication as well as for dancing. A Kalindula is a bass guitar, lending its name to this style of Zambian popular music also found in Zimbabwe. Many of the key players in the aforementioned Zamrock scene graduated from Kalindula and hence have some history in their discographies featuring this earlier style. Paul Ngozi and Mike Nyoni, two famous players of Zamrock, both known for releasing Kalindula. The famous Zambian Music Parlour record label and Chris Music Editions, hard sought by many, features a number of straight Kalindula LP’s with songs also dotted on other mixed psychedelic rock LPs. Two labels that focused more on Kalindula music were Karibe and Kalimba and it is from here that I make my pick.

Dylan McArthur has been trading in African records for a long time and has been operating under the name Tambourine Party in recent years. Friends with Strawberry Rain Music (naturally), Invisible City Editions (check his live sets from the shop on Facebook) and also Terrestrial Funk over in Miami (recently featuring party artwork from none other than “crud” aka Al White, 12th Isle northern party crew affiliate) Dylan’s record and party credentials are tight. He’s set about reissuing some white hot records himself, including a killer boogie compilation from June Evans, and a reissue of a near-mythical third LP from Ghanaian legend ROB (whose first two lp’s are widely lauded and comfortably command a high 3 figures for original copies if you can find them). The ROB LP sits high on my LP’s of the year list, originally promo’d on Taretone before receiving poor distribution and sinking into disco oblivion. Now gloriously revived by Tambourine Party it’s superb in every way, with catchy songs. sick disco beats, heavy reggae vibes and incredible musicianship. Dylan was also responsible for the under the radar hit of Shelia Majek’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition in a Nigerian boogie style, ruffly edited on a Al-Tone Edits/Tambourine Party joint seven inch. And so it was, via an auction that Dylan was running of rare African records, that I came across P K Chishala.

The grand master and early pioneer of Kalindula music, Peter Kalumba Chishala known as Professor PK Chishala or simply PK Chishala was born in 1957 and went on to dominate the music industry in Zambia in the ’80s before passing away in 1996. A blind musician, he became a controversial figure writing what became later known as protest songs. His second hit song “Ba Pastor” was critical of the immoral behaviour of Pastors. Naturally, it did not go down well in religious circles, with some listeners interpreting it as a true story. PK Chishala insisted it was not, but the damage was done. Still, it went on to win song of the year in 1985. He continued with themes of corruption, unfair bureaucracy and social injustice (sounds like my kinda guy), releasing the album “Church Elder” in 1987, whose title track describes the antics and misdeeds of the Church Elder called Pole Pole. Another song lamenting the plight of orphans, and finally the song chosen here, Mutete, a song advising a schoolgirl to finish her studies before rushing into marriage. The song has strong Latin vibe, not unusual itself, but which sets it apart, feeling dark and dreamy, with heavy repetitive chants and arpeggios, typical intricate guitar work, Kalindula bass and a timelessness happily pushing it towards more experimental modern dancefloors.

After Church Elder, in 1990, PK Chishala introduced his wife, Harriet Chishala on the LP Na Musonda featuring the excellent title track, and dreamy Makufele alongside anti-AIDS messages and warnings about promiscuity. However, it is on the 12” single release, Karibe B-side “Zambian Lady”, which I uploaded to YouTube, where he again approaches a sound with modern dancefloor potential similar to that of Mutete in an altogether more cheerful upbeat mood, less synths more vocals. Here again, I don’t proclaim to be an expert in the history or provenance of this music and the intent is merely to share wonderful music deserving of a wider audience interested in the reimagining of the forgotten sounds of another world brought back to life via open-eared DJ’s and dancefloors willing to step outside the familiar, or something…

Geek on Dudes!